Tag Archives: wiimote

Kinect-Based IWB

infrared points of light projected from a Kinect

Ever since a $3000 bounty was placed on cracking open Microsoft’s fab new gaming hardware, the motion-sensing Kinect for Xbox, hackers and tinkerers have been putting the open-source drivers to lots of interesting uses on platforms that Microsoft never envisioned.  I’ve written about interesting Kinect hacks before (and before that,) and I’ve written about my experience with the Wii-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard (IWB,) but I haven’t seen a fully-developed Kinect-based Interactive Whiteboard.

Perhaps an Interactive Whiteboard is too narrow a description.  Many of the pieces are in place (see below) to interface with a computer using Kinect.  So, as with the Wii-based IWB, any application you can use on your computer can be controlled by this hardware.  If you connect your computer to a projector, you essentially have an Interactive Whiteboard.

Is the Kinect-based experience different from a Wii-based IWB or a Smartboard?  Almost certainly.  There would be no need to touch the screen at all, but rather to gesture in front of the Kinect to interact with the projection on the screen.  Would this be an improvement?  I’m not sure.  A touch-based IWB is more analogous to traditional whiteboard that uses markers and an eraser.  So, the touchless experience would be quite different.  I need to try it myself to really wrap my head around the opportunities that this motion-sensing interface offers.

I’m not sure if anyone here at Ohio State is working with Kinect as an interface for non-Xbox applications.  But I do know that the Digital Union has a Kinect which could probably be used to see if and how things work.  If anyone else is interested in trying to pull this together, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Multitouch with Kinect

Kinect on a Mac

Multitouch Kinect

Kinect Fingertip Detection

Kinect + PC + Mario = Fun


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Hacking Kinect

I never really thought much about Microsoft’s Kinect until I saw what hackers were doing with it.  A story in the New York Times outlines how a designer and senior editor at Make magazine posted a $3000 bounty for the first person to post an open-source hack of the Kinect interface.  Huzzah!  In fact, I’m still not that impressed with it — 3D drawings are cool, but will they help me teach English? — but I’m thrilled that hackers big and small are poking around under the hood.

Interestingly, Johnny Chung Lee, who became famous for his TED talk where he described hacking a Wiimote to act like an interactive whiteboard, is involved in the development of Kinect.  Microsoft were so impressed with his skills on the Wii-based IWB and other projects they hired him.  He is reportedly very happy to see hackers taking on Kinect in the way he took on Wii a couple of years ago.  If a hacker can squeeze an interactive whiteboard out of a $40 Wiimote, what will come out of the $150 Kinect system?

Will this technology help us teach ESL and EFL?  It’s not easy to see how, at least not immediately.  But prepare for a giant step forward in how we interface with computers in the next few years.  Interactive whiteboards are just the beginning.  You can always show your students this video and ask them to predict the future (in English).


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computer with a dunce cap

I just got a letter (dated June 14) from the folks at SMART, makers of SMARTboards, etc.  I’ve included the full text of the letter below, in case the link doesn’t work.  It wasn’t sent to me personally, but rather sent out to licensed users of their products.

As I have mentioned before, I really like SMART hardware, but SMARTboards are expensive and not very portable.  I’ve also documented a $50 DIY alternative, based on the Nintendo Wii controller, which has fewer features but can fit in a large pocket.  The SMART software is also very good, but there are several alternatives and workarounds that can accomplish many of the same things.

This puts SMART in a difficult position.  They have been selling their hardware and giving away their software for “free”.  (It’s free the way a drink is free at Taco Bell if you buy a taco.)  Unfortunately for SMART, edupunks who have access to an LCD projector can build the equivalent hardware for $50.  I’ve been told from other people who have built their own interactive whiteboards that the best possible combination is the “free” SMART software on the more portable DIY hardware, which works with any LCD projector.  So, now SMART is trying to clarify that their software is only “free” if you buy or use their hardware.

This seems like a losing battle for SMART.  The RIAA’s approach to penalize consumers who copied music did not make sense but offering reasonably priced songs on sites like iTunes did.  Hollywood was heading the same direction by threatening uploaders of copyrighted material until a compromise was reached that gives the copyright holder a share of revenue generated by ads next to their videos.  Now that is smart.

What is the solution for SMART?  Well, they could start by being clearer about the price of software — it isn’t free.  They could also be clearer about how to purchase SMART software to use on other hardware (so called “Restricted Products,” below).  They seem to be doing this in this letter, but is that it?  I understand SMART’s desire to protect the products they have developed, but treating customers and users of SMART products as scofflaws does not engender much good will.

Our college just got a SMARTboard and two other interactive whiteboards made by SMART’s competitors and put them in the same room so that they can be evaluated head-to-head-to-head.  I’ve suggested setting up a $50 Wii-based version as well.  May the best interactive whiteboard win.

June 14, 2010

To all SMART customers:

SMART Technologies has been investing in SMART Notebook™ collaborative learning software for 15 years. We update and improve our software regularly based on feedback from our users, and we are currently developing version 11. Soon we will release a service pack for version 10 that will be accompanied by a revised licensing agreement, which addresses in more detail the permitted use of SMART Notebook software.

It has come to our attention that misleading or incorrect information about the use of SMART Notebook software is being provided. In advance of the software update, we are writing to confirm the permitted use of SMART Notebook software to help you make informed choices.

When you purchase any of the following eligible “Licensed Product,”
· SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard
· SMART Board interactive display
· SMART Response™ interactive response system
· SMART Podium™ interactive pen display
· SMART Document Camera

a SMART Notebook license is included with the product and you are permitted to use the software on any computer connected to these Licensed Products. SMART Notebook software may also be used on a reasonable number of computers associated with your district or school that are not connected to a pen or touch-enabled devices. This permits teachers to use the software at home to create lessons for use on their Licensed Products in the classroom.

The license agreement does not, however, normally permit the use of SMART Notebook software when a computer is connected to a restricted pen- or touch-enabled device (“Restricted Product”). Restricted Products include, but are not limited to, any touch-enabled or pen-enabled devices that are not on the Licensed Products list above, including the following:
· Interactive whiteboards
· Interactive projector systems
· Display screens
· Screen digitizing devices or slates

To provide options for our customers and enable access to .notebook files by anyone, anywhere, on any device, including Restricted Products, we offer the SMART Notebook Express™ web application, found at express.smarttech.com.

If you have any questions regarding or wish to inquire about use of SMART Notebook software with Restricted Products, please contact SMART at 1.866.518.6791 and follow the voice prompt to press 7 for SMART Notebook license. You can also send us an e-mail at info@smarttech.com with “SMART Notebook license” in the subject line.

Yours truly,
Patric Nagel
Vice President, Sales – Americas


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Interface with the Future

I’ve been thinking about interfaces for a while. Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) probably got be thinking in this direction, and the recent announcement of the motion sensing Project Natal for the Xbox has finally pushed me to write about them.

Note the fine print: actual features and function may vary.

As computers have evolved, so have the interfaces we use to interact with them.  To give you an idea of my own personal timeline, I have no experience programming on punchcards, but I do remember the pre-GUI days.  The mouse has become ubiquitous, but what comes next?  Here are some possible answers:

Interactive Whiteboards: These are pretty heavily documented on this blog and elsewhere.  Here, the user can interact with the display, making the mouse and, to an extent, the keyboard unnecessary.

Slap widgets: Physical tools to be used with IWBs and the like, further blurring the line between the physical and the virtual.  (Watch the video!)

Siftables: An interesting miniaturization of an IWB-type interface with the added bonus that each mini screen can interact with the others.  If each Siftable had a letter or a word, how could they be used to teach English?

MIT’s Sixth Sense: This video went viral a few months ago, but keeps popping up.  Why can’t your computer interface with the physical world?  It soon may.

Wii & Natal: Nintendo has enjoyed blockbuster sales of it’s Wii gaming system which features motion-sensitive controllers.  Now, Microsoft has unveiled the same thing with Natal, but no controllers are needed.

Do it yourself interfaces: In addition to making your own IWB using a Wiimote, other examples include the Beatbearing, in which ball-bearings are used to sequence electronic drum beats, a modified Nintendo Powerglove, which upgrades late 1980s virtual reality technology, and a giant Katamari ball controller, which is a controller designed and built specifically for the game Katamari, in which players roll a ball through an environment which attracts more stuff (litter, park benches, people, their pets, etc.).  The makers of each of these interfaces have posted detailed plans and instructions online so that you can build and modify your own.

Move over visual learners, kinesthetic learners are about to have their day.  And why not?  Why should  simply watch something when we can interact with it in more natural ways?  The next generation of computer interfaces promises to expand our idea of how we relate to computers.

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Random Choices from my Interactive Whiteboard

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

The slot-machine interface with big blue buttons makes randomly choosing students fun -- especially on an interactive whiteboard.

I finally had a chance to crack open one of Sanfields’ free flash resources for teachers (which I’ve blogged about before) and everything worked great.

I had been looking for a reason to incorporate Les Rouleaux and found it when we started a unit on Negotiation.

As you can see, Les Rouleaux is a slot-machine inspired interface which spins and stops randomly after a button is pushed.  The example on the Sanfields website randomly chooses a kind of weather, a kind of clothing, and an activity.  This can be used in any number of ways (practicing vocabulary, writing sentences, etc.).

The best part about this activity (and most others on Sanfields) is that they are editable.  In this case, you can exchange, edit, or create your own slot-machine reels.  (Each reel is a .jpg image with 15 images measuring 120 x 125 pixels.)  Complete instructions and the files you need to download are all on the website.

In my example, I created a reel with my students’ pictures, which I used for the first and third reels, and another that had the styles of negotiation we had been studying (win-win and hard / soft).  The two students who were selected by the slot-machine had to roleplay a negotiation in the style that was selected for them.

Because I don’t have 15 students in my class, I created “Students’ Choice” and “Teacher’s Choice” squares to fill in the remaining spaces.  Also, obviously, I have blurred my students faces in my example to protect their privacy.

My students really enjoyed incorporating this activity into our classroom.  Granted, it’s a bit indulgent.  I could have pulled names out of a hat and I could have clicked the buttons on my laptop instead of the interactive whiteboard, but students did enjoy this richer, more interactive experience.

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Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii)

Ivan just got back from TESOL, where the Wiimote-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard was very well received.  We started talking about some of the questions that were asked which lead to this post: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the $50 Interactive Whiteboard.

How much does it cost? / Is it really only $50?
The controller for the Nintento Wii is for sale throughout the United States for $40.  You can build an infrared pen for $5-6.  The software is free to download.  The cost of the computer, projector, and Bluetooth adapter (if your computer does not have built-in Bluetooth) are not included in the $50.

I can’t make my own infrared pen.  Can I buy one?
Absolutely.  Do a Google search and you will find several options starting as low as $6.

Do I have to modify the Wiimote? / Can I still use it with my Wii?
No / Yes.  The Wiimote connects to the computer via Bluetooth, the same way it connects to the Wii.  You don’t have to open the Wiimote, break it, or reprogram it.  So, if you (or your kids) have a Wii, you can use the equipment you already have for both purposes.

Can I take a Wiimote and infrared pen in my carry-on luggage?
You mean if you’re flying to a conference to make a presentation?  It turns out you can.  Both Ivan and I have recently carried these devices onto flights and had no problems at all.

How do I know if my infrared pen is working?
Check it with the camera on a cell phone.

How do I get started?
Download the free software (Mac version or PC version), build an infrared pen (see my demo) or buy one online, connect to the Wiimote via Bluetooth (open your Bluetooth devices, push the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wiimote, add the device), run the software, calibrate it (push the “calibrate button,” click on the targets), and you are done.

How do I set it up?
Place the Wiimote so that it is at least as high as the midpoint of the screen and aimed at the center of the screen.  It should be at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the screen on either the left or right side, depending on how you write — you don’t want to block the Wiimote’s view of the pen with your hand.  The Wiimote should be placed far enough away (usually about 10 feet) to be able to “see” the whole screen.  You’re ready to calibrate (see above).

What should I do?  My writing is choppy. / My Wiimote can’t see my pen. / There are too many infrared dots!
If your writing is choppy or your pen seems to stutter, try adjusting the “smoothness” on the PC version.  Mac users have fewer options.  Quit as many other applications as you can and / or try moving the Wiimote closer to the screen and recalibrating.
If your Wiimote can’t see your pen, check that the Wiimote is connected to your computer and that your pen is working.  Assuming everything is working properly, you probably need to reposition your Wiimote so that it can see the entire screen.  The Mac version allows you to track infrared dots that the Wiimote sees, which is helpful, but both versions tell you how many dots are visible.  Try the pen at all four corners to make sure it is visible.  If not, move the Wiimote and try again.
If you are seeing too many infrared dots, you may be picking up interference.  I’ve gotten infrared interference from overhead incandescent lighting.  Try moving the Wiimote around to see if you can identify the source of the interference and then eliminate it (in my case, I turned off those lights).

Hope this helps.  If you have a question that does not appear on this list, leave it as a comment and I’ll answer it and / or add it to the list.


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Simplification now includes Photoshop

We bought a Wii this weekend.  Yes, I purchased 5 Wiimotes months before actually buying the machine they were designed for.  The Wii is a brilliantly simple device.  So much easier (and more fun) to use than the button-riddled controllers of its chief rivals, which explains why Wiis are still sold out at many retailers.

As the Wii has proven, a simple, usable design is the best design.  Most users of most technologies don’t need every possible feature.  And, increasingly, they are choosing to not pay a premium for them.  Other examples of this trend include netbooks (simple laptops that rely on cloud computing power — see Clive Thompson’s excellent article in Wired 17.03), the XO Laptop (the netbook for the One Laptop Per Child project), Apple’s iPhone (just a touch screen), the Siftables I posted about previously, and now desktop applications themselves.

What gradient map would you choose for your new adjustment layer?

What gradient map would you choose for your new adjustment layer?

Photoshop used to be a big, expensive application that put a professional photography studio on your desktop.  Come to think of it, it still is.  But as features multiplied, it became harder and harder to use for simple operations.  (Should I adjust the CMYK or RBG levels in this mask layer to reduce red eye?)  Enter online photo editors.

cnet recently reviewed 15 of them and I was impressed.  All of the basic features I have turned to Photoshop for (waiting 3-4 minutes each time as it boots up) are available, even including layers, masking, and plenty of effects.  Most are free and work as simply as attaching a photo to your email message.  So, if I need a quick picture for a blog post or my Facebook page, I can turn to one of these sites in a pinch and get some editing done quickly and efficiently.  Simpler is better, and now simpler doesn’t have to be bad.

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